Having a stroke is always devastating – but imagine being hit by one while on top of a church. Dubliner Paddy Feehan had just stepped out of the cherry-picker and on to the roof of the parish church in Ardagh, Co Limerick, to begin work on the church bell when the stroke hit.
"I got a furry sensation all over my body and I suddenly felt as if I had a pebble in my mouth.
"I couldn't move, and my whole left side was paralysed.
"I was alert to what was going on around me, but I had difficulty talking and moving."
May 21, 2009, had begun as an ordinary working day for the campanologist – an expert in bells and a professional bell-ringer. Paddy travelled around the country modernising the way church bells were rung.
"We installed automatic hammers on old church bells and wired them into a control box in the sacristy with a timer. I was basically modernising the bell-ringing technique in churches around the country," he explains.
Luckily his work colleague quickly realised there was a problem and acted fast, grabbing the dazed father of four by his coat-collar, and pulling him back into the cherry-picker before returning the machine to ground level. There he told the priest to call for an ambulance.
"Within 30 minutes I was in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick," recalls Paddy.
"They told me that I was lucky to survive the stroke and they said I'd never walk or talk again," recalls the Dundrum man, now aged 75 and a grandfather of eight.
After two weeks in Limerick, he was moved to St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin for a further fortnight.
Next he was transferred to the Royal Hospital in Donnybrook, where he stayed for a year and a day, emerging in August 2010 – and already thinking about what to do next.
An avid cyclist who'd biked all over the world, Pat was determined to get back in the saddle.
But he knew it was going to be a challenge. "In the Royal Hospital I did a lot of physiotherapy. When I went in, I was immobile on my left side and found speaking very difficult.
"I did physiotherapy every day and bit by bit the staff tried to get me to stand on my bad leg."
As he was to discover, standing wasn't just a physical challenge.
"I literally had to train my mind to make that leg support me. It's about getting your mind back to where it used to be, and that took a lot of focusing.
"I had to learn to concentrate very hard to keep myself upright. I found that even one little lapse of concentration could see me fall on the floor."
He fell only once – at home, when he had a lapse of concentration. "To this day, every time I move, I have to check my route to make sure there are no obstructions in my way.
"Otherwise you'll try to negotiate around it, and this interferes with your concentration on staying upright – so you could fall."
During his rehabilitation in the Stroke and General Rehabilitation Units of The Royal Hospital Donnybrook, Pat held fast to his dream for the future.
Each day, Pat works out on a special training bike or Motomed after dressing and showering with the help of a home-help.
"I go on it every day for up to one-and-a-half hours."
He's getting stronger and fitter, gradually increasing the distance he can cycle from next to nothing to almost seven kilometres.
This daily workout is not an end in itself – Paddy has a big goal in mind. And that goal is to get back cycling again. "I was an avid cyclist all my life. I cycled all over Ireland and abroad," he says.
He fondly reminisces about cycling trips abroad with family and friends – he often used his cycling skills not only for leisure but also as a way to fundraise, by taking part in charity cycling events.
In 2004, he cycled nearly 1,000 kilometres from San Francisco to LA with his eldest son, also called Paddy, for Cooperation North.
Two years later, in 2006, Paddy, his youngest daughter Paula and son Paddy cycled 750km along the coast of South Africa.
"We planned to travel to Boston in the summer of 2009 and spend a fortnight cycling and sight-seeing, but that plan was interrupted by the stroke," he recalls.
Despite the clear physical obstacles, Paddy wasn't about to give up. "All during the rehabilitation, my biggest dream was to go back cycling – I really wanted to be back in the saddle."
One day, his son Paddy asked him if he'd fancy trying out a tricycle. Initially Paddy was not impressed. "It reminded me of my first bike, a tricycle, which I got when I was five years old. I felt that would be a bit of a big comedown!"
But then he thought a bit more about it. "I said if it was possible, I'd give it a go."
Paddy went off, and, unbeknownst to his dad, organised a fundraiser to which he invited Paddy's many cycling friends.
The event raised enough money to pay for a special custom-made tricycle, the two-seater Chameleon Trident Tandem Tricycle, which was sourced and imported from North Carolina in the USA.
The bike, originally designed for use by returning injured war veterans from Afghanistan, it is the only one of its kind in Ireland.
"They had to send over my specifications to make sure it would fit me properly," says Paddy.
He took delivery of the machine last July and immediately got moving. "So far we have done 11 laps of Leopardstown Racecourse, which is a mile a lap. It's all pedal-power, so I've lost weight and I've become fitter."
Now that he's achieved his goal of getting back in the saddle, Paddy has identified another one – participating in the Cooperation North Mara-cycle next summer:
"We've been doing the Mara-cycle in our family since 1984 and I hope to do it again next year!
"That's my goal. My first dream was to get back in the saddle and my next dream is to do that cycle.
"Napoleon once said that there's always a way out. That quote is my guiding light – never say never!"